TV Ads Whet Kids' Appetite for Junk Food

But study finds parents can counteract the influence by encouraging healthy choices

THURSDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Food ads have a powerful influence on children's food choices but parents can lessen that effect, according to a new study.

It included 75 children aged 3 to 5 who watched two cartoons, with a commercial between each cartoon. Half the children saw a commercial for apple slices with dipping sauce and half saw a commercial for French fries.

After watching the cartoons and commercials, the children were allowed to select a coupon for one of the advertised food items, with input from their parents. Half of the parents were told to encourage their child to select the healthy food, while the other half were told to remain neutral.

Among the children who saw the commercial for French fries, 71 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral, while only 55 percent opted for the French fries coupon if their parents encouraged them to choose the healthy food.

Of the children who saw the commercial for apple slices, 46 percent chose the coupon for French fries if their parents remained neutral, while only 33 percent picked the coupon for French fries if their parents encouraged them to make the healthy choice.

"Children were clearly influenced by the commercials they saw; however, parents are not powerless," noted study author Dr. Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M International University, in a journal news release.

The study appears in The Journal of Pediatrics.

While the impact of food ads on children is considerable, Ferguson said that parents "have an advantage if they are consistent with their long-term message about healthy eating."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and healthy eating.

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